Cupping in patients with carpal tunnel syndrome

Cupping is a treatment in which evacuated cups are applied to the skin to draw blood through the surface.

Researchers from Immanuel Hospital Berlin, in Germany reported the response to this traditional method of treating musculoskeletal pain.

First, the details.

  • 52 adults with neurologically confirmed carpal tunnel syndrome were randomly assigned to a treatment group.
    • Cupping: A single application of wet cupping
    • Control: A single application of heat
  • Treatment included the region overlying the trapezius muscle — the shoulder and upper back involved in moving the shoulders and arm.
  • Patients were followed-up on day 7 after treatment.
  • A 100 mm visual analogue scale was used to measure treatment response.

And, the results.

  • Symptoms were significantly reduced from 62 to 25 mm at day 7 in the cupping group vs 67 to 52 mm in the control group.
  • Functional disability and physical quality of life were significantly improved with cupping.
  • The treatment was safe and well tolerated.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “Cupping of segmentally related shoulder zones appears to alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.”

Researchers from the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine, in Daejeon recently reviewed the evidence for cupping to treat pain.

Here’s what they found.

  • 2 studies: significant pain reduction for cupping in low back pain vs usual care
  • 2 studies: significant positive effects of cupping in cancer pain and trigeminal neuralgia vs anticancer drugs and analgesics, respectively.
  • 2 studies: significant favorable effects of cupping arm pain vs usual care or heating pad.
  • 1 study: failed to show superior effects of cupping on pain in herpes zoster vs anti-viral medication.

Overall, these reviewers concluded,  “Most of the existing trials are of poor quality.”

6/18/09 20:58 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.